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March 7, 2011

Picture of the week (Aquaponic Harvest)

Filed under: Aquaponics,Food,Picture of the week — Tags: , , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

So a couple pictures today.  The lettuce in the Aquaponics has been coming along nicely, we have been getting to have a nice salad every couple weeks out of it.  The parsley has exploded, we can’t eat it, our friends can’t eat it, and I can barely pawn it off :-).  The parsley in the second picture was a batch that I gave to our friend Rebecca when she was over this weekend.  The bread was a new recipe that I tried, and it turned out quite nicely, it was a quick bread that didn’t require any type of kneading.

March 3, 2011

Aquaponics – Winter water collection system

Filed under: Aquaponics — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

Last November I posted about a new water collection system I had setup to collect water from my garage roof and then use it for my Aquaponics (You can see the original article here: My new rainwater collection system/).

I had planned on storing about 150 gallons of water in our basement to make it through the winter with, however because of time and money constraints I ended up only being setup to keep about 50 gallons worth.  However in November I had figured it out and it seemed like I would be fine with 50 gallons in the basement.  Back in November I was only losing about 2 gallons a week, I didn’t realize what would happen as soon as our furnace kicked on.

Many people have issues with the air being to dry in their house over the winter if they have forced air heating (which we have), however, this year my aquaponic system has been moderating the moisture level for our house automatically.  What was unexpected about this though was that I am now losing 10-15 gallons of water a week that is evaporating into the air, that is a very large difference between the 2 gallons a week I was expecting.

The other assumption I had made when setting up my new rainwater collection system was that I would probably be able to refill my stored water downstairs at least a couple times over the winter when we have the thaws that we get from time to time in the winter here.  I quickly realized that, yes, we did get thaws, but that my water collection system was frozen so solid there wasn’t any chance of using it until spring time.

Towards the end of December I was already almost out of water, and I wasn’t really sure what to do, 10-15 gallons of water a week through the britta water filter was not going to work, and I really don’t want to go back to using city water.  I was contemplating this issue as I pulled the last few gallons out of my storage in the basement when I realized I had been an idiot.  The whole reason I was running out of water was because it was too cold outside, what happens in northeast Ohio when it gets cold?  It snows, I had unlimited amounts of water sitting in my back yard in the form of tiny little ice crystals.

That day I moved a snowdrift from my backyard and filled up my 50 gallon barrel in the basement, it took 3 days for the snow to melt and come up to room temperature.  Once the snow/water was up to room temperature, I ran all my water tests on it, and I couldn’t find any fault in the water.  If you think about it, snow is one of the cleaner forms of water, it is basically evaporated water turned to ice, most contaminates don’t make it through evaporation, I would venture a guess that the snow is a cleaner water than what I was getting from my rainwater collection system.

Since I had that discovery (that I could use snow for my aquaponics), every couple weeks  you will find me out in the back yard moving a snow drift one bucket full at a time down to the basement.  What is funny about that is I imagine my neighbors are watching trying to figure out why I am taking snow drifts out of the back yard and into the house when I don’t ever even shovel my driveway!

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January 25, 2011

Picture of the week (Aquaponic Lettuce)

Filed under: Aquaponics,Picture of the week — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

First off, I am very sorry about the utter lack of articles and pictures over the last month here, I swear I am not out of idea’s or content.  My laptop that I use at home died a few weeks ago and I have been having trouble getting a computer back up and running to use, you wouldn’t think being the computer guy that I am that this would present an issue, however with me being cheap and not wanting to spend anything coupled with how busy I have been, I just haven’t gotten my computer back running again.  I am going to try and get back to posting though even with the current computer issues.

So about the picture, I realised I haven’t posted any pictures of my Aquaponics since I setup the new bin a few months ago, things have been going very well, no more fish deaths, no more fin rot or ich, etc.  We have been eating pretty steady out of the new bin I setup, we get a couple salads every week or so out of it, plus all the parsley you can ever deal with, we are having parsley with EVERYTHING!

I am hoping to do some more planting in the Aquaponics in the next few days just to fill in some of the spots that are still a bit bare, no use in having space going to waste!

December 13, 2010

Picture of the day (Aquaponic Quarantine Tank)

Filed under: Aquaponics,Picture of the week — Tags: , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I had setup a quarantine tank for my Aquaponics and it seems I never posted a picture of it.  As you can see its nothing special, a very simple design.  In the picture you can see two tanks, the one on the right is my quarantine tank and I built a small grow bed out of a 5 gallon bucket where I am growing some mint.  I intend to add three more 5 gallon buckets, most likely all running out of the quarantine tank.  The tank on the left is one I store water in to refill the two regular fish tanks with.  Since I am now using rainwater to refill my tanks (and its winter here now), I don’t want to bring in freezing cold water and add it directly to the fish tanks, instead I put it in the tank to the left and let it sit at least a day to get it to the exact temperature of the regular tanks.

November 4, 2010

My new rainwater collection system

Filed under: Aquaponics — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

Water is an ongoing problem for me, I need to replenish the water in my Aquaponics that I lose both from evaporation and from what the plants use to grow.  The bigger my Aquaponic system the more I have to replace, in my original system (About 15 gallons) I was losing about a gallon every other week, in my upgraded system (About 50 gallons) I lose about 2 gallons a week, after I build my next system (About 150 gallons)  I will probably be losing 8-10 gallons a week.

Historically I have just used the city water and run it through our Britta water filter, however that only really works with small amounts of water, when you have to fill the Britta up 10-15 times a week just for the Aquaponics, it gets old fast.  Also using that much tends to make the filters not last as long and they are fairly expensive.

Even with the water being filtered by the Britta, I still worry about using the water, I do not know for sure if the Britta will remove the chloramine added by the city (An additive to kill off any bacteria in the city water), if I add water that has chloramine in it to my Aquaponics I run the risk of it killing off the good bacteria that I depend on to convert the Ammonia from the fish to Nitrate that my plants need to grow.  Also the city tends to force the PH level of the water to be fairly high “Base” to keep it from wearing down the cement pipes the water travels in to get from the water department to my house.

So why have I continued to use city water filtered very slowly through a Britta water filter for all this time?  I thought setting up a rainwater collection system would cost a fair amount and be a real pain to setup.  It turns out I was right and wrong.

If you look at commercially available rainwater collection systems, you will see they are going to run you at least $200, and you are going to have to setup some special equipment on your downspout to redirect the water into your rain barrel and then once your barrel is full it will direct the water back into your normal drainage system.  Also it will have a fancy setup so you can hook up a garden hose from the bottom to use in your garden and such that works via gravity.

Those are nice, and they may be worth it for many people, but I realized I could go much simpler.  I don’t need a hose attached, I am carting it into the house for my fish tanks anyways.  I am not worried about what happens if the rain barrel overflows, so I don’t need anything fancy setup on my downspout.

So my solution?  I bought a garbage bin from WalMart for $10, washed it out really well and just have the downspout sticking right in the garbage bin.  I cut a notch out of the lid so it will go around the downspout and keep most of the leaves and such out of the water.  The first 2-3 times the bin filled up with water, I just dumped it out so that any of the chemicals that might leach out from the new bin didn’t make it into the fish tank (The water and bin smelled a bit like burnt plastic at first).  Now the water is perfectly clean and clear, it doesn’t have any kind of bad smell, and the water tests I have done on it show it to be close to perfect (Just a bit on the acidic side when I test the PH).

Now rather than spending the better part of an evening filling the Britta, I can just go out with my gallon jugs and bring in whatever water I need, so far it has been working great!  I have also started setting up some barrels in the basement where I intend to store about 150 gallons of water to help me make it through the winter.  I plan to put an air bubbler in each barrel in the basement to keep the water from going stale.

A quick word of warning, if you decide to setup this type of system yourself, be aware of the possible issues with your rain barrel overflowing.  If you are collecting water off your house and you allow the barrel to overflow, it could end up flooding your basement by putting that quantity of water in the ground right beside your house, normally your gutters will drain out through your normal drainage systems away from the house.  I was not worried about this because my collection barrel is on my garage a fair ways away from my house.

October 5, 2010

Ich, my fish are still dying!

Filed under: Aquaponics — Tags: , , , , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

Nothing puts a damper on the excitement of a new upgrade in the Aquaponics quite like coming home to a dead fish, then another, then another, etc.  It was depressing watching my last batch of fish die off, then to find out I am losing about 2 a day still, it really makes you question if its worth trying to raise fish.  But alas, I am not giving up!  Time to learn from my mistakes yet again and move forward a more educated aquaculture’ist.

So while working through my current fish problems here are the things I thought were causing them to die (In the order I thought of them)

  1. PH – The PH of the water in my system is about 8.0, this is the highest the PH can safely be from my understanding for my plants and the goldfish
  2. Water Issues – I use city water in my system, I have long been worried about the possibility of the city adding Chloramine to the water we get, many cities use Chloramine instead of Chlorine, and without putting in another chemical to neutralize it it will build up in my system until it eventually kills off my fish.
  3. Media Issues – My grow beds use rock that I get from Lowes to grow the plants in, it is possible for the rock to have chemicals or metals that would dissolve in the water that could endanger the fish, it is a bit of a remote chance, but one I have worried about before.
  4. Weak Fish – I know that the fish from the pet stores are not the greatest quality, especially the feeder fish I buy, I thought maybe some of them were on the verge of dying anyways, however with the amount I lost, that didn’t seem plausible.
  5. PH – I circled back to PH being the culprit, I thought that maybe my old batch of fish had gotten used to it, but that it was too much difference from what the pet store had and shocked the fish to badly.

In the end, Meagan commented on the fact that one of the fish had all but lost its tail and wasn’t swimming very good, I dismissed that as it being sick and the other fish attacking it and didn’t think much about it for a few days.  Then all of a sudden it hit me, I had made a rookie mistake, Meagan had been dead on, we were dealing with a common fish disease called Fin Rot (http://www.fishdeals.com/fish_diseases/fin_rot/), I started looking at the fish and couldn’t believe I had missed that, also within a couple hours of studying the fish swimming around and some research I also realized some of the fish had another disease called Ich (http://www.fishdeals.com/fish_diseases/ich/).

It was pretty obvious once I realized I was dealing with these two diseases what was going on, also, since I had only had the fish for about a week I was certain they had brought these illnesses from the pet store.  So now that I had my answer on what was happening, now it was time to come up with a game plan on how to fix it.  In a normal aquarium they have medication that you can add in for each of these that will solve the issue pretty quickly, but in an Aquaponic system its a little bit more complicated because anything I add to the system will eventually be absorbed by the plants and eaten by us, so the result of this is that you really cannot put medicine into the Aquaponic system.  The general fix-all in an Aquaponic system is to add salt, most diseases can be fought off with the addition of salt, I immediately salted the system.

Once I salted the system, the fish that had not been affected now had a way to fight off the illness, however the ones that were already sick still were dying off.  I started building what is called a “Quarantine Tank”, basically a tank that is separate from my main system where I can have a higher salt concentrations (plants can’t tolerate as high of a salt content as the fish can) and can also add in any medication I want without having to worry about it making it into the plants we will be eating.  However, before I could get the tank ready I lost the rest of the fish that were exhibiting the symptoms of Ich and Tail Rot, so the quarantine tank was a bit of a moot point for this round of fish.

At this point I still have 9 out of the 24 feeder goldfish and I have the two fancy goldfish I started with.  I also now understand much more the reasoning behind always quarantining any new fish that come in.  I have read so many times that you should always quarantine any new fish, I didn’t do that because I didn’t have any fish in my system as it was, so I wasn’t worried about the new ones infecting the existing ones.  However I failed to realize that by adding them directly to my system I was introducing diseases to my main system that I now have to work to eliminate, and I also was very limited in my options on how to cure the fish once they started getting sick.

In the end, I have now learned how to recognize Ich and Tail rot, I also now have a quarantine tank mostly setup (I will be finishing it over the next couple weeks), I purchased a Refractometer to test salt levels in my tank and I setup a rain barrel to solve the water issues I thought I might be having (I will be publishing an article about my rainwater collection system soon).

September 22, 2010

The death and rebirth of my Aquaponic system

Filed under: Aquaponics — Tags: , , , , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

As alluded to in this weeks “Picture of the week”, I have been working on upgrading my Aquaponic system.  This upgrade has been long overdue and I have been talking about doing it now for probably the better part of a year, oh if only for more time!

This upgrade comes about because of some sad news however, about two months ago I started having my fish die off, about one every couple weeks would die for no apparent reason.  It is hard to feel more helpless than to have your fish keep dying and have no idea what to do about it!  If one of our pups isn’t feeling good, I can take them to the vet and get answers, but when you are dealing with fish, you are all on your own.

After digging into the problem more, I ended up finding out that I had a Nitrite spike in the water, just a quick overview for context of what Nitrite is:  When fish breathe they create Ammonia, I cycle the water from the fish tank up into my grow beds about once an hour and there is a naturally growing bacteria that converts the Ammonia to Nitrite, then there is a second set of naturally occurring bacteria that converts the Nitrite into Nitrate.  Both Ammonia and Nitrite are harmful to the fish, however you can have a pretty high concentration of Nitrate in the water and it doesn’t hurt the fish at all.

So as I said, I determined that I had a Nitrite spike in my system and that is why the fish were dying, this is very odd because normally once you get past the first month or so of setting up your Aquaponic system you don’t have to worry much about the Ammonia and Nitrite, once the cycle gets underway its pretty well self balanced, you mostly just have to monitor the PH levels as they will fluctuate and make sure you keep up a high enough level of Nitrate so that the plants are getting nutrition.  However seeing that there was no Ammonia present and the Nitrate readings were still high, I determined that there were not enough plants growing to use up the nutrients in the water, which in turn caused the Nitrite to stop being converted into Nitrate.

Ok, so are you still with me?  Good.  So the very sad part is I lost all my goldfish I have had for almost 3 years, my office has not been a fun place to hang out lately, but I know what happened, and I know how to prevent it now, so lesson learned and now on to the more happy part of this post.

I decided that setting up a lettuce tray would be a nice way to expand the system, so I purchased a large plastic tote like you would use to store stuff under your bed, I filled it with pea gravel and it is set higher than the existing tote with my basil tree.  So now the pump from the fish tank pumps the water up to the lettuce try which in turn drains into the original grow bed which then drains back into the fish tank.

I have planted a bunch of of different kinds of lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, parsley, and some green onions.  I am already seeing a bunch of the lettuce coming up and based off from the last time I grew it, we should be eating it in no time!

I also had to upgrade the fish tank, I was using about a 20 gallon plastic tote for the fish tank, however that was not enough water to fill both the lettuce tray and the existing tote and still leave enough water for the fish, so I purchased a new 50 gallon plastic tote and set it up with 20 feeder goldfish, 2 fancy black goldfish, and 2 fancy catfish.  I have gravel on the bottom along with some nice rocks from Meagan’s mom (Debi) and some live plants we got at the pet store.

All in all, I am very excited to have the new expansion in place, and of course I am always thinking of the next way to expand my system.  And I am also going to be taking steps to prevent a disaster with the fish like just happened (I will now be checking the levels in my water every week to prevent spikes from happening without me knowing it).

Also I have updated the Aquaponic section on the site here with more pictures of my current system, please check it out: http://www.kd8itx.com/myaquaponicsystem.php, I am hoping to be adding more content to this section soon about how Aquaponics works and how to setup a basic system on your own.

September 20, 2010

Picture of the week (Aquaponic Preview)

Filed under: Aquaponics,Picture of the week — Tags: , — Marcus @ 2:00 am

I know it has been a very long time since I have posted,  its amazing how busy it can be around here in the summer!  I have a bunch of posts lined up for the next few weeks I hope I can get the finishing touches on and get them up here.  In the meantime, please enjoy a teaser picture from some of the upgrades I have been doing to my Aquaponic system, I will be posting many more pictures and details on it later this week!

March 6, 2010

Creative Problem Solving

Filed under: Aquaponics — Tags: , , — Marcus @ 8:07 am

I have a routine problem in my Aquaponic unit, the lines pump lines that take water from the fish tank up to the grow beds get all kinds of gunk in them until they pretty much shut off, I have to remove the lines and clean them about every 2-3 months.

Now if you had water lines made out of flexible 3/8 inch plastic how would you clean them? Normally I just run water backwards though them from the faucet in the shower and then flex the hose while I am doing it, it takes a little while and works well enough, but it doesn’t really clean them all that well. As always while I am doing this I was trying to think of a better way of doing it, and today I came across a better solution.

Use a gun cleaning kit, I already had several, when I tried it this morning it took all of about 2 minutes to clean the lines and it did a way better job which means I probably won’t have to clean the lines as often.

So I have a better solution now, I should just keep using that right? Well there is no reason why I would have to do anything better, this solution works really well, but I am sure that every 6 months now when I have to clean the lines I will be trying to think of a better way to do it, always refine your methods.

I titled this post “Create Problem Solving” because I run into things like this all the time both at work and at home, and a lot of people I run across never seem to stand back, really look at the issue and try to come up with a better solution. The best people I work with when they come across a problem they don’t just keep doing things the same way, they know there is a better way that just needs found, whereas many other people just get stuck on a problem and wait for someone else to think of a better solution.

When I come across a problem like this I have a basic way of working through it

  1. Describe the problem
  2. Why is this a problem?
  3. Is there an easy way to correct part of the problem?
  4. What is the root cause of the problem?

Just the simple act of going through these steps sometimes will reveal an answer, sometimes it will provide a path to the answer, sometimes it doesn’t do anything to help with coming up with an answer (Normally because the answer is outside of your control). But I have yet to have this process hinder finding an answer. And even if you don’t get an answer to your problem, you will most likely get a better understanding of the process, so when you go to get help from either a coworker or tech support or whatever you will be able to communicate the problem better.

So to apply this to the issue with the lines from my Aquaponics this is how I would have answered the questions:

  1. Describe the problem: The water lines on the Aquaponics get plugged up and need cleaned often.
  2. Why is this a problem? When they get plugged up, the water can’t flow fast enough and then my grow beds will fill with water but never be able to trigger the siphon to drain the grow beds like they need.
  3. Is there an easy way to correct part of the problem? If I had something I could push through the water line it would clean it out faster and better.
  4. What is the root cause of the problem? There are two issues, #1 excess fish food gets sucked up and sticks in the water pipe, #2 algae builds up because the lines are clear.

So now you see how I arrived at my better fix of using the gun cleaning kit, and also I now know the path to solving the issue with the water lines.

Until next time…

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